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Not Your Ordinary Commute - traffic trouble, car trouble, and too many mechanics that know me... all too well.


Gonzo

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Not Your Ordinary Commute to Work

 

It’s 26 degrees outside, the wind is howling, and I’m off to work in my old truck. The same truck I’ve owned for over 30 years, the same one that I drive nearly every day. It’s about a 35 mile commute from my country home to the bustling city where my repair shop is located. It’s not a bad drive, mostly main highway. A bit of it is through some heavily wooded areas where deer have a tendency to dart out, and I have to pass through a small sleepy town on my way to a large dam I have to cross just a few miles from my house. Then, I come to the main highway that heads straight into the city with no stop lights for miles.

I take the same route with the same posted speeds and battle the same crazy drivers every day. There’s the makeup lady, the cell phone talkers, and of course the kamikaze daredevils. I still don’t get it why some people feel it’s necessary to drive like it’s the Indianapolis 500 this early in the morning. You know, weaving through traffic, jamming on their brakes as they approach the next car, or ride your rear bumper like they’re going to try some NASCAR sling shot maneuver and zip past you at the next opportunity. There’s always one every morning, who darts through traffic like a jack rabbit and plants their foot on the brakes at least a hundred times every mile. The wear and tear on their cars has got to be tremendous. Can you imagine what those brake pads look like? Let alone what kind of condition those rotors are in? And, you know… sooner or later one of these speed demons is going to mess up and cause an accident. Today was one of those days.

Traffic was backed up for about 5 miles by the time I was gathered up in it. Nobody was going anywhere, and I was content to wait with the rest of the traffic while we slowly inched our way further down the road. The traffic report came on the radio announcing the accidents in the area. Sure enough, I was smack-dab in the middle of the whole thing. There were three separate accidents reported, and they were all less than a mile apart. (No fatalities, thank goodness) All the exit ramps were jammed with people trying to find alternative routes, so I decided to just sit this one out right here on the main highway and wait with the rest of the traffic. This was definitely going to be a long…long commute today.

As I inched past the third mangled wreckage scene, I was commenting to myself about how the steam plumes were so much thicker than at the last two mishaps. That’s when I realized it wasn’t the mangled cars that were smoking… it was me! I better pay attention to the gauges. She’s as hot as a firecracker, the temp gauge was all the way in the red. Apparently, I was so engrossed in the traffic and accidents that I didn’t notice my heater had gone cold too! In an instant most of the water and coolant shot out of the radiator cap and the overflow. If I don’t get onto the shoulder soon, I’m likely to be the next accident reported on the radio. Ok, on goes the turn signal, head for the side of the road, shut er’ down, and turn on the hazards.

By now I was just past the last accident, but not that far away from it. Every commuter with a gas pedal had it buried to the floor trying to make up for lost time as they gunned it back up to highway speeds, while I negotiated the shoulder of the road. People were flying by me as if I was standing still, oh, that’s right… I was still, still spewing steam in the air as I sat there. My little truck rocked back and forth as every car flew by. It was quite some time before I got a chance to take a quick look under the hood. When I did, I wasn’t surprised at what I found. The fan clutch had given up. Needless to say, if the traffic would have kept moving I would have never known there was a problem. Now my problem was… I need a tow truck. There’s no coolant in the radiator, and I’m not close enough to an exit. I’m stuck here.

I called the tow company that does the towing for my shop. Ol’ Steve got a chuckle out of this one. As he told me, “You know, we can recommend a good shop that can take care of that for you.” Yea, fine… rub it in buddy. He laughed and said he would have one of his trucks there in a few. I sat back down in the truck hoping for at least a little wind break and maybe soak up the last bit of the heat in the cab. That’s when I noticed a truck had stopped just in front of me and was slowly backing up towards my truck. It was a mechanic I know from another shop. “Did ya break down, Gonz?” I told him what had happened, and of course he laughed, laughed all the way back to his truck as he headed off to his shop. Not more than a minute or so later, another car does the same thing. It’s another mechanic from another shop who noticed it was me on the side of the road. You know, I might as well start selling tickets to the “Gonzo break down”, seems I’m a rather popular disabled vehicle or something. Because it wasn’t long before a half a dozen mechanics from different shops had all stopped to see what I was up.

You know, it’s one thing to be known in your area by other mechanics, but it’s a whole other thing when the greatest enjoyment for them is not one of my insightful stories or technical articles, but a little side of the road entertainment with coolant dripping onto to the tarmac and steam billowing from under the hood of my truck. I’m never going to live this down. By the time everyone had their chuckle, and of course a few choice photos for their facebook page the tow truck arrived. And, of course, the embarrassment continued. James (the tow driver) just kept repeating the same thing all the way to my shop, “Gonzo, Gonzo, Gonzo. Boy Oh Boy, I would have never guessed I’d be picking you up on the side of the road.”

 

In the thirty plus years I’ve owned this little truck, I’ve never had it on a tow truck before, and it’s never left me stranded on the side of the road, either. Well, I can’t say that any more. Yep, not your ordinary commute to work! At least everybody had a good laugh to start their morning off, even after being stuck in traffic for so long. Thanks guys… ya made my day.


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Gonzo: Well, you did not finish the story? What turned out to be the problem that caused you to be towed back? I suspect something minor, and not something that was overlooked while servicing it, or not servicing it, like so many end up broken down!:)

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

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      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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